Five years, growing to a team of 16 people and merging with a software company. Envitron has transitioned from startup to scale-up, focusing on making buildings more energy efficient and sustainable by monitoring and steering energy flows real-time. But what are the challenges when your energy startup starts growing up? And how has COVID-19 changed things? Co-founder & CCO Rein Schuil discusses ideals, challenges and ambitions.
Envitron was founded in 2015 and develops both hardware and software. The hardware collects relevant data from almost any energy asset and the software processes that data into easily understandable information and allows automatic control signals for immediate energy savings. “The energy consumption of most buildings in the Netherlands is still far from optimal, but in the past few years, we’ve taken some big steps to help change that with our technology”, Rein says.
So where did it all start?
“On a boat actually! Niels Tammeling, one of our co-founders, wanted to sail around the world in a self-sustaining boat powered by solar, wind, and water energy. But in order to do that, he needed a system that could monitor how much energy is produced and consumed, as well as things like storage capacity. A system like that didn’t exist yet, so we decided to build it ourselves and later decided to apply the same principle to buildings instead of boats.”
And where did things go from there?
“I’d say the first few years were about creating a strong business model around the idea, as well as working on our prototype and designing scalable and future proof hardware and software. In 2018, we partnered with New Nexus to professionalize our software and we worked really hard on the product development side. That’s when things really started to take off. We’re now working with around 30 middle to large size clients.”
What would you say has been the biggest challenge in growing Envitron?
“Changing our organizational structure has been quite a challenge. When you’re a startup with a small team, everyone does a little bit of everything and you all share the same responsibility. But when the team started growing over the last year, getting things done in a structured way without losing the startup culture suddenly became a lot more complicated. There was a need for clear roles and responsibilities, so change became a necessity. All while making sure we would not lose the ‘flat’ startup work culture where we share the same responsibility for growing the business.
And did you lose that culture?
“No, fortunately we didn’t. Earlier this year, Karen Noorda, an external business analyst from New Nexus, evaluated the company for about three months and she helped to come up with the best organizational structure for us. It really made a huge positive difference. It’s easier for all of us to say ‘no’ to certain tasks and focus on our own expertise, while being far more efficient with our time as roles within the organization are clearly defined.”
So that would be right around the time of the first lockdown. Has COVID-19 changed things?
“I think that every organisation had to adapt to the new way of working from home. Fortunately, much of our work and communication is cloud based with tools like Jira and Slack and we use scrum to get things done, so adapting to the new way of working went relatively smoothly for us. But of course there’s no more casual chat in the hallway (which is quite handy at times!), so we made fixed appointments for our digital meetings. For example, we scheduled meetings with the whole team twice a week at first, which we later changed to once every week. but it still took some time to get used to.”
And did it impact your business?
“The first few weeks were uncertain. You’re worried about customers postponing orders of course and some actually did. Though it is understandable, as every company focused on their own immediate priorities in the changing market situation. For many companies Q2 is a very important financial quarter so timing was not the best for all of us, but in the end, we were fortunate enough to come through all of it quite alright.”
Is the future bright?
“We’re signing up new customers every week and are making up a lot from our second quarter now. With a lot of hard work and a future-proof organisation the future looks bright. We’re working on some really cool projects on the horizon too. But that success is all thanks to the people in our team. Their qualities and mentality through this whole period have made all the difference. And I’m absolutely certain that this team has been the deciding factor for a lot of our clients, in trusting us and wanting to work with us.”